(LAROB) Simon Critchley–John Gray’s Godless Mysticism: On "The Silence of Animals"

Human Beings do not just make killer apps. We are killer apes. We are nasty, aggressive, violent, rapacious hominids, what John Gray calls in his widely read 2002 book, Straw Dogs, homo rapiens. But wait, it gets worse. We are a killer species with a metaphysical longing, ceaselessly trying to find some meaning to life, which invariably drives us into the arms of religion. Today’s metaphysics is called “liberal humanism,” with a quasi-religious faith in progress, the power of reason and the perfectibility of humankind. The quintessential contemporary liberal humanists are those Obamaists, with their grotesque endless conversations about engagement in the world and their conviction that history has two sides, right and wrong, and they are naturally on the right side of it.

Gray’s most acute loathing is for the idea of progress, which has been his target in a number of books, and which is continued in the rather uneventful first 80 pages or so of The Silence of Animals. He allows that progress in the realm of science is a fact. (And also a good: as Thomas De Quincey remarked, a quarter of human misery results from toothache, so the discovery of anesthetic dentistry is a fine thing.) But faith in progress, Gray argues, is a superstition we should do without. He cites, among others, Conrad on colonialism in the Congo and Koestler on Soviet Communism (the Cold War continues to cast a long shadow over Gray’s writing) as evidence of the sheer perniciousness of a belief in progress. He contends, contra Descartes, that human irrationality is the thing most evenly shared in the world. To deny reality in order to sustain faith in a delusion is properly human. For Gray, the liberal humanist’s assurance in the reality of progress is a barely secularized version of the Christian belief in Providence.

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